Arts: How the Emerald City Comicon Got So Huge

Has the annual event outgrown its geeky charm? Not yet, say insiders. And I hope it never does, says this insider.

This weekend’s Emerald City Comicon is sold out, so I’ll limit my remarks to the following readers: a) geeks who are already going; b) civilians who’d never go but have a kind of anthropological curiosity; c) perplexed drivers who make the mistake of being near the Washington State Convention Center, where 75,000 people—some in costume—will swarm; and d) those few people who’ve posted hilariously desperate pleas for tickets on Facebook.

I began covering ECCC for The Seattle Times at the inaugural event in 2003, when it drew 2,500 visitors to a portion of the old Qwest Field Event Center. For the past few years, post-Times, I’ve been there as one of the many comic-creator guests, pimping my work like Rotten and Dejah Thoris and The Green Men of Mars. (This year, look for me at Table I-O6, which I hope isn’t in the broom closet.) Over the past decade, it’s grown to become the third-largest such gathering in the U.S., according to founder Jim Demonakos. It’s the hugest pop-culture event in one of the nation’s pop-culture epicenters, now a fixture on our calendar like SIFF, Folklife, Seafair, and Bumbershoot.

By comparison, the big-ass San Diego Comic-Con in July draws about 130,000 visitors. More and more industry types—myself included—find SDCC tedious, claustrophobic, loud, too expensive, and increasingly skippable. There you find yourself strolling past a baffling array of reality-TV stars and other SDCC guests who don’t have even a peripheral relationship to comics or geekdom. Yet the Emerald City con seems to be one that pros and fans look forward to and enjoy. Why?

“I think it’s multiple factors,” says Demonakos. “It’s one of the first shows of the year, so it’s a nice kick-off to the con season. The attendees are not only enthusiastic about comics, but we have a huge variety of attendees, so there’s something for everyone. On top of that, we really value our creators and make them a huge part of the show, not marginalize them.”

That’s a reference to San Diego, where the people who actually make the comic books that fuel nearly all our mainstream pop culture are eclipsed by the lavish promotional efforts of TV shows, video games, and Hollywood studios. For instance, ECCC has no equivalent to San Diego’s infamous Hall H, where a guy got stabbed in the eye with a pen at a Resident Evil: Afterlife panel in 2010.

“We do our best to make sure our show floor is focused on comics and related items,” says Demonakos. “It’s one of the things we’re proud of, is how curated and diverse our show floor is.”

Ah, the massive show floor: jammed with solid, slow-moving rivers of humans flowing—and always abruptly stopping to gawk or snap photos—among giant booths for big companies such as Marvel, DC, and Image. Long lines of fans waiting to pay for autographs from nerd-media idols like Ron “Hellboy” Perlman, and bringing comics for big-timers like Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Sex Criminals) to sign for free. Vendors selling comics, shirts, toys, posters, and every imaginable tchotchke. Tables where the many dozens of artists, writers, and other talent sell their wares and do sketches. Panel discussions, exhibits, movie screenings, and assorted parties. Behemoth.

I do hear some people beginning to ask: Is Emerald City getting too big and crowded, too close to San Diego? We do have our own contingent of media guests from up and down the food chain this year, including Richard Dean Anderson of MacGyver, Michael Biehn of The Terminator, Eliza Dushku of Buffy, and Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride. Most are selling their autographs at rates of $40 and up.

“It gets crowded at times, and I hate crowds, but if a comic con isn’t crowded, they’re doing something wrong,” says writer Jay Faerber (Near Death), who lived in Seattle when ECCC began. Now he finds it a perfect excuse to visit each year from Los Angeles, where he also writes for TV’s Star-Crossed. He continues, “I think the con is so well-liked by professionals because it still feels like a convention that really values its comic-book roots.”

Speaking for Fantagraphics, which will have a booth at ECCC and host artists including Stan Sakai, Ellen Forney, and Michel Gagné, editor Eric Reynolds says, “We fully support it, even if it’s not a huge business for us. It’s fun to have a hometown show and see people who come in from around the country. Usually it’s the other way around for me.”

Now if you’re a member of Group A above, let’s discuss the proper care and feeding of the guest artists and authors, myself included, you’ll meet inside. I asked Lacey-based writer Eric S. Trautmann (Shooters, Lady Rawhide, Frost: Rogue State), about dos and don’ts for such encounters. He’ll also be sitting behind a table (E-05) this weekend.

EST: Please don’t bow your head sadly when you find out that I’m “only” a writer. If I could draw Batman well enough, believe me, I’d be drawing Batman.

MR: That’s what I was going to say: Please try to conceal your palpable disappointment.

EST: With one caveat: children are excluded from that one.

MR: How about: Please don’t just stand and watch while your child fingers and mutilates the comics on my table.

EST: . . . without purchasing at least one copy of something. And please cover your mouth if you cough/sneeze—or at the very least, don’t aim yourself directly at my eyes. (Also actually happened.)

MR: Hand sanitizer?

EST: I figure that’s my responsibility, since I genuinely would prefer not to drown in my own phlegm.

MR: But if everyone used hand sanitizer—and wore a full hazmat suit—it would be safer.

EST: You just keep clinging to those attainable goals, Mark.

MR: Also, I’m not big on eye contact.

Lastly, for Group C above, and for the pedestrians who gawk at the Spandex- and furry-costumed contingent wandering around Pike Street, let’s address the phenomenon of cosplayers. No, they are not Bill Cosby imitators.

In fact, the elaborately costumed people at comic cons range from amateurs with homemade outfits to pros who make money at it. I asked Arizona cosplayer Cara Nicole, aka “AZ Power Girl,” for some etiquette tips. (She’ll be hard to miss at table C-16.)

Here are her Power Girl edicts: 1) Do ask if you can take a picture. Don’t demand one. 2) Have your camera or phone on and ready to take the picture. 3) Don’t take cosplayers’ pics while they are eating. 4) Don’t grab a cosplayer in any way. Ask if you can touch them if you would like an appropriate interaction such as a hug or a handshake. 5) Don’t put your armpit on a cosplayer’s shoulder. It causes pit stains on their costume. 6) Don’t ask for a phone number. Ask for an e-mail address instead.

My own costume may seem incongruous, but it’s more common than you’d think: sarcastic, misanthropic writer, possibly hung-over—who’s really happy to be there.

markrahner.com

EMERALD CITY COMICON Washington State Convention Center, emeraldcitycomicon.com. $10–$75. 10 a.m–7 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.

 
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